Influential smiling: changing the world one joyful expression at a time

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Warning: this post contains strong tones of optimism.

I give a lot of my time to Amnesty International and last Saturday I spent a good part of my day out on the street collecting for Amnesty’s annual appeal. It was a grey day and I was essentially on my own for much of the time holding the fort while others roamed the streets with their collection buckets.

I enjoy people watching and am comfortable in my own skin so this was not much of a hardship. But the thing that struck me, as always when in this sort of position, was the incredible nature of mirror neurons at work. As I flashed my genuine, heart felt smile at every passer-by, with no plea for coins or anything else just a smile and a pleasant greeting, I would say 90% of people smiled back, engaged in some way and/or put whatever coins they had into my bucket. Many went out of their way to obtain some coins to put into my bucket and often didn’t know until afterward which charity they were donating to. What they felt was the powerful pull of mirror neurons to replicate my smile and my intentions. Mirror neurons are an inroad into influencing others around you, as positive psychologist Shawn Achor says: our brains are not hard wired together but through mirror neurons we are wirelessly connected to one another.

Receiving and returning my smile gave these individuals pleasure, my realistic but optimistic self was focused on the concepts of Amnesty International and, although this charities work is not a pleasant topic with happy, fluffy or joyful connotations, these individuals responded positively to me and the cause. The situation became meaningful for them and I hope a little happiness might have entered their equation. Rather than pessimistically concentrating on the vast issue of human rights violations and the current global refugee crisis, we discussed these issues in a realistically optimistic way peppered with suggestions on what an individual can do to engage and take action. It certainly made my day more enjoyable and I learned a good deal about how to successfully apply mirror neurons and influence those around me.

Image credit: The Mona Lisa (1503-1506) painted by Leonardo Di Vinci (1452-1519).

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